ROME - The Vatican said Sunday it had been forced to oust its former auditor general -- who resigned without explanation in June -- because he had been spying on senior officials. In the latest scandal to embroil the centuries-old institution, Libero Milone had accused the Vatican of getting rid of him because his investigations into possible illegal activity had hit too close to home.

Just hours after the story broke, the Vatican issued a furious response. "Milone's office illegally appointed an external company to carry out investigations into the private lives of members of the Holy See," it said in a statement. It is very rare for the secretive seat of the Roman Catholic Church to comment in public about internal affairs.

Milone had given an interview published earlier Sunday to four media outlets including Italy's Corriere della Sera daily in which he said: "I did not voluntarily resign. I was threatened with arrest. I feel very sorry for the pope. I had a splendid, indescribable relationship with him, but over the last 18 months they stopped me seeing him. Obviously they didn't want me telling him about some of the things I'd seen," he said.